International Women’s Day is an opportunity for all Americans to celebrate the accomplishments and progress of women around the world. Women continue to make gains on many continents and in many areas of life. But while we rejoice in these advances, we must not forget that women are still denied their rights in too many places, and are too often relegated to the margins of society. On this important day, we must all renew our commitment to meet the global challenges that disproportionately affect women and girls and undermine the progress and prosperity of our human family.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Investing in Women and Girls,’ and I am proudly adding my voice to the calls for increased investment in programs that impact women and girls worldwide. I believe we need a significant increase in the budget for development assistance and for programs to reduce global poverty.
Having worked on women’s issues internationally and traveled to more than 80 countries during the past 15 years, I continue to believe that poverty, illiteracy, inadequate health care, violence in and out of the home, and political and economic marginalization are among the biggest obstacles to improving the lives of women and girls. Attacking these problems at the grass roots is essential to our efforts to seed democracy and win the hearts and minds of people around the world.
We also must address the global health challenges that have a disproportionate impact on women and threaten our own security and the stability of fragile regions of the world. I became well aware during my tenure as First Lady of the ravages of health crises on the African continent such as HIV/AIDS, and I support providing $50 billion to provide universal access to treatment, prevention, and care for HIV/AIDS, fight tuberculosis and reduce and eradicate malaria. I believe we have an historic opportunity to end more than a million needless deaths from malaria in the next several years in we make these investments today. It is also essential that we again provide support to organizations like the United Nations Population Fund that provide critically needed health services for women.
I’m also extremely proud to have introduced the bipartisan Education for All Act of 2007, along with Senator Gordon Smith and Representatives Spencer Bachus and Nita Lowey. One of the wisest investments we can make is in the education of young people, especially girls who are so frequently denied the chance to go to school and grow up to participate fully in their societies. A quality education not only helps alleviate poverty and raise living standards, it can dramatically reduce infant and maternal mortality and the spread of HIV/AIDS. The bipartisan Education for All Act will gradually increase funding to $3 billion a year by 2012 so that the United States is meeting its responsibility to make sure that every child – including those affected by conflict, disability or child labor – has a chance to learn and grow. There is no better way to honor International Women’s Day than for all of us to expand our commitment to the education of girls, especially in the poorest corners of the world.
When I attended the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women more than a decade ago, I noted that ‘every woman deserves the chance to realize her God-given potential.’ But in order for her to do that, she must be given equal access to programs that can help lift her out of poverty, go to school, and remain healthy for herself and her family. I look forward to working over the next year to ensure that we are making the investments necessary to help women achieve their potential not only as individuals, but as essential participants in our global community.